Violence at Work – Duties of Employees

The law protects everybody by allocating rights, assigning responsibilities (legal duties), by defining and clarifying expectations and by making everyone personally accountable (and liable) for any adverse effects their actions (and the decisions they take) have on others.

Common Law ‘duty of care’

Employees have a range of statutory duties under the Health & Safety Legislation (see below) but, these really need to be viewed as being in addition to their individual Common Law ‘duty of care’ to others and contractual obligations.

Everyone has a Common Law ‘duty’ to take ‘reasonable care’ to avoid acts or omissions which could reasonably be foreseen as being likely to cause ‘injury’ to someone else. If someone has behaved negligently and harm has happened, the Common Law provides for victims to sue the person(s) responsible.

Employees should be aware that even if the incident complained of happened at work and was strictly employment related they still stand to be sued or prosecuted as private individuals if their actions (including inaction) contributed significantly to harm happening to the victim.

Note: Although, not under a legal obligation to do so, some employers (and some Unions) will sponsor an employee’s legal costs. If, however, the employee’s actions have fallen outside the employer’s expectations (i.e. Policy, Code of Practice, Safety Instructions/Procedures), it may be that the employer (or the Union) wish to disassociate from the employee’s actions, resulting in the support being withdrawn.

Contract Law

All contracts of employment include ‘implied duties’. These exist whether or not they are actually written down as part of the contract.

The list of employees’ implied duties include:

a) A duty to co-operate with their employer

b) Work in accordance with lawful orders

c) Serve the employer faithfully and honestly

d) Exercise skill and care in the performance of their work

Health & Safety Obligations

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 made employees (at all levels) personally responsible and legally accountable for their behaviour, decisions and actions at work.

Section 7 Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 made it a legal responsibility of all employees to take ‘reasonable care’ of their own health and safety as well as the health and safety of other persons who may be affected by their acts or omissions.

The duty to take reasonable care for their personal health and safety is important when it comes to claiming compensation.

The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945